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The Weekly Blab 4.5

The Weekly Blab

Volume 4, Issue 5—November 10, 2009


Please note that there are several embedded links in case you want to read more on a particular subject.


Good Stuff This Week:

It’s great to see so many faculty and staff involved in grant activity.  While SPSU’s primary focus has always been (and will be into the future) on teaching excellence, many of our faculty also are active in applied research, and seek out grants to support it.  This is even more critical these days, with the state cutting back on the amount of support that it gives the universities, since obtaining grants can help lower our reliance on state funding.


Congratulations to our many colleagues who have had successful grants over the past year:

  • Gouranga Banik (CM) on a joint grant with Cleveland State University to the NSF on “Implementation and Assessment of Failure Case Studies in the Engineering Curriculum”, with SPSU getting $10,000.
  • Brianna Morrison on a joint grant with Georgia Institute of Technology to the NSF on “(Disciplinary Commons for Computing Educators” with SPSU getting $15,682.00
  • Chi-Chen Hung (CS) on a grant to ID-Biometrics on “Facial Recognition Software” for $9,388.
  • Tony Sideris (SPARC) on a grant to the NRC on “Construction Curriculum Development” for $99,999with a three year total of $397,217.00
  • Christina Scherrer (IET) on an NSF-BRIGE grant on “Optimization Models for Public Health Policy” for $174,802.  She also received a grant from the Georgia Dept. of Health and Human Services for $7,000 for Domestic Violence Needs Assessment.
  • Hussein Abaza (CM) on a grant from DCA on “Energy Auditing” for $214,000.
  • Rich Halstead-Nussloch (IT) on a grant from DCA on “Software Evaluation” for $73,080.  He also was funded by the State of Georgia for “Community Affairs Software Testing” for $4,950.
  • Kai Qian (CS) on a grant to NSF-CCLI on “Collaborative Research on Infused Software” for $97,685.00
  • Professors Lu Kang (Chemistry), Jennifer Vandenbussche (Math), Larry Wang (Math), Shangrong Deng (Math), Briana Morrison (CS), John Preston (IT), Wei Zhou (Chemistry), Sarah Holliday (Math), Laura Ritter (Math), and Andy Wang (IT) all received STEM mini-grants.  The funds for these grants, in turn, were obtained from a STEM grant written by Alan Gabrielli (A+S), Phil Patterson (Physics), Andrew McMorran (Math), and yours truly.
  • Jeffery Orr was PI on a grant for $36,900 as part of the USG’s African-American Male Initiative.  This is the second AAMI grant for which Jeff was PI.


Another 18 grants or so are still pending for additional funding, and this doesn’t include various grants that continue to supply funding to various programs on campus.  Again, congratulations to all, thanks to all the folks in the Grant Development Office for their help, and keep on writing!



Diversity in the Classroom

Meg Dillon (Math) shared with me how she incorporates diversity into her classroom.

She wrote:  “Like you, I love the history of my subject.  In particular, I've had the wondrous good fortune to be able to teach a geometry course the last few years.  This is a fantastic opportunity to talk about all sorts of goings on, starting with the Greeks pre-Euclid, through my personal hero Euclid (300 BCE), through the golden age of Islam, where I talk up the great Arab thinkers, and onto Europe during the Enlightenment, through to Einstein.  The Islamic period is particularly important for several reasons, among them the students in our classrooms who come from Islamic or Arabic backgrounds and sometimes maybe feel a bit squirrelly about how they are perceived in the US; and for the students we have who have never traveled out of Georgia. This story would make a great epic novel:  it starts in brutal ignorance and a cultural desert, and within four generations flowers into the rebirth of the traditions established by the greatest thinkers of Greece.  I just love it and it always perks the students up to hear those stories.  I tell them whenever there is an opportunity, and this was actually a significant part of my talk a few weeks ago about non-Euclidean geometry.

So, yes, I consciously work a diversity angle in my courses, and not just geometry.”


Thanks, Meg, for the great example.  Anyone else want to share their diversity in the classroom story?


Treatment of Adjuncts

Great to see that CSE has taken up the issue of treatment of adjuncts within their school, and that the full-time faculty are responding so positively.


Students and Graduation

As many of you know, there’s a big push from the Board of Regents this year on improving graduation rates.  A task force has been set up, and they’re gathering information from the campuses about what the barriers to graduation might be, what our plans are to remediate them, and how we will build a “culture of graduation” within the system and on each campus.  We’ve had some preliminary discussions on this topic at the ALC and Deans Council, chairs are currently gathering some information about their departments and programs, and SPSU will be making a presentation to the BoR on this subject on May 4. 


One thing that always turns up in conversations about graduation rates is the issue that some students are underprepared for our degree programs and for college.  The Chronicle of Higher Education recently asked a set of questions around the topic “Are Too Many Students Going to College” of a panel of experts on this subject.  The experts were a pretty varied bunch, spanning the conservative to liberal spectrum.  Questions included:

  • Who should and shouldn’t go to college?
  • How much does increasing college-going rates matter to our economy and society?
  • Economists have cited the economic benefits that individual students derive from college.  Does that still apply?
  • Who should pay for students to attend college?
  • Does the United States view and handle this issue differently than other countries?  Should it?
  • At what point does the cost of going to college outweigh the benefits?


I’m not going to recap what the various participants said (because between them and the people who posted follow-up comments, they said pretty much everything), but I would like to comment on the questions themselves.  For one thing, you can tell that the recession we’re in is on the Chronicle’s mind, because the questions for the most part focus on money.  Apparently, the real question is: “Are we getting a sufficient return on our investment in higher education?” regardless of whether that investment is a public or a private one.   For another thing, the questions presume that the costs and benefits of a college education are things that can be directly measured.


We can certainly calculate the total amount of money being spent on tuition, the amount on financial aid, the amount of tax money going to pay for higher education, and many other such things, but that’s only part of the equation.  What’s the cost of not doing it? 


The US was one of the first nations to provide universal public education for its citizens.  There were lots of folks who thought that this was a big waste of effort.  It was a common belief that not everyone could benefit from more than a few years of learning (let alone a high school education), and that any education beyond basic reading, writing and arithmetic wasn’t needed by most.  There are probably some people who still believe this.  Still, I think that the evidence is overwhelming that universal public education has been good for America, giving us a huge economic and social advantage over countries that didn’t invest in such things, and resulting in enhancements to our economy and way of life that are worth many multiples of what universal education costs.


Charles Murray makes the argument: “It has been empirically demonstrated that doing well (B average or better) in a traditional college major in the arts and sciences requires levels of linguistic and logical/mathematical ability that only 10 to 15 percent of the nation's youth possess. That doesn't mean that only 10 to 15 percent should get more than a high-school education. It does mean that the four-year residential program leading to a B.A. is the wrong model for a large majority of young people.”  I couldn’t disagree more.  While college certainly isn’t for everyone, every time in history that the argument has been made that only a certain few have the attributes necessary to benefit from higher education, the argument has been proven wrong.   To cite just one obvious example, at one time it was believed that women were incapable of higher learning.  Today, women constitute the majority at most universities. 


Have we all seen students who aren’t ready for college—students who don’t have an adequate academic background, students who don’t have good study habits, students who annoy the heck out of the faculty?  Sure.  But that’s a long way from saying only 10-15% of our youth have the ability to benefit from a college education.  Our challenge is to nurture that ability, and help our students bring it forth.  Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher, wrote: “We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who say that only the educated are free.”  Or in more modern form, Mary McLeod Bethune (founder of the school that became Bethune-Cookman Univ.) wrote: “Education is the great American adventure, the world's most colossal democratic experiment.”


This Week’s Trivia Contest

This week’s contest involves SPSU history.  The most correct wins the prize, which is, as usual, a Jazz CD.


(1)    In what year was SPSU founded?

(2)   Who was the first president of SPSU?

(3)   What was the name of the first women’s organization at SPSU?

(4)   In what year was the first SPSU bathtub race?

(5)   Which two of the following were not one of the first five programs to be offered at SPSU?  Aeronautical Technology; Building Construction Technology; Electrical Technology; Electronics and Radio Technology; Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning Technology; Industrial Safety Technology; Mechanical Technology


Last Week’s Contest: 

The person with the most correct answers was Greg Wiles from IET.  Greg—your disc is waiting.  The rest of you need to watch more TV.


  1. 1.       What were the names of Andy’s three major girlfriends?  Ellie Walker, Peggy McMillan, Helen Crump
  2. What high school did Andy and Barney attend?  Mayberry Union High.
  3. What TV show did Andy Griffith spin off from, and what two TV shows spun off from Andy Griffith?  It spun off of the Danny Thomas Show (Make Room for Daddy), and the two spin offs were Gomer Pyle USMC and Mayberry RFD

and two tough ones:

  1. What was Barney’s landlady’s name?  Mrs. Mendelbright
  2. What was Andy’s fishing rod’s name?  Eagle Eye Annie